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Looking for the best way to kill time until Benvenuto Brunello is taking off by the end of February? Tasting my way through the preview of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano the weekend beforehand normally does the trick for me.

From the 16th to the 18th of February 2013, wine trade and journalists are invited to meet the Vino Nobile 2010 and Vino Nobile Riserva 2009 (register 
here). Both vintages have been awarded four stars out of five, which will ensure a pleasant weekend. The wines will be presented every day from 2pm to 6pm in Montepulciano's fortress (the location has recently been restored with the support of the town's vintners' association). 

San Biagio church in Southern Tuscany. One of Montpulciano's many treasures.
San Biagio church: Montepulciano's Renaissance jewel

Close to Montalcino, Montepulciano has a lot in common with the home of Brunello. The two hill top towns have beautiful historic centers, host prestigious music festivals in summer and are impossible to access in high-heels. Montepulciano scores with more Renaissance architecture (e.g. the San Biagio sanctuary on the photo above), but Montalcino can hit back with Sant'Antimo abbey, one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Italy. Both towns may be small but sport their very own fortress, and each one is known for its breathtaking views over the Val d'Orcia, the valley dividing the territory between them. Montalcino is in fact one of the five municipalities making up UNESCO heritage Val d'Orcia, whereas Montepulciano lies right on its eastern border. 

Whilst the list of similarities between Southern Tuscany's most famous wine towns could go on and on, the inhabitants of Montalcino and Montepulciano actually prefer to highlight the things that set them apart. Starting - obviously - with each town's renown wine. Even though Brunello and Vino Nobile got their DOC and DOCG recognition at around the same time, Montalcino remains the only DOCG area in Italy, which produces 100% Sangiovese wines. Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano are Sangiovese based, but can be blended with up to 30% of other authorized grape varieties (similar to the Chianti Classico disciplinary which also requests a minimum of 70% Sangiovese grapes). This, and the fact that Vino Nobile is aged only for two years (three in the case of a Riserva) can earn the people from Montepulciano a little sneer from the campanilismo loving Brunello producer. 

Nevertheless, as a Swiss who's been drinking Montalcino's wines most of her adult life, I need to give a little credit to Montepulciano. Whether you're into Brunello or Vino Nobile (or perché no? just adore both of them), there exists definitely one area where Montalcino just can't compete with Montepulciano yet.

Pop rock. 

No, I haven't been starting my drinking routine early today. The truth is, these quaint Tuscan hilltop towns are much less medieval than we like to think they are. Montepulciano may look like a sleepy backwater, but since the mid 90s the small town has secretly raised one of Italy's greatest indie pop bands, whilst the rest of us just have kept talking about wine, Renaissance architecture and the simpleness of Tuscan countryside living.

Baustelle: La morte (non esiste più)

Baustelle (the German name of the band means 'construction site' or 'work in progress') have released their newest album called Fantasma by the end of January, just two weeks before the Vino Nobile preview. Part of the group members have moved to Milan over the years, but Baustelle is obviously still in tune with the rhythm of their home town wine. To such a degree that some of the album's recording has taken place in Montepulciano's fortress. I don't know about you, but the fact that the historic location of the Vino Nobile preview also serves as recording studio, make's one of Italy's best wines even more endearing to me.

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About 40 minutes south of Siena and a bit over an hour from the Tuscan coast, Val d'Orcia lies to the east of the Maremma and to the west of Montepulciano and Umbria. The UNESCO world heritage site is made up by the territories of Montalcino, San Quirico d'Orcia  (with historic spa town Bagno Vignoni ) , Pienza, Castiglione d'Orcia and Radicofani. The Orcia river crosses two more municipalities (Castel del Piano and my hometown Cinigiano ), where it divides the province of Siena from the province of Grosseto (Tuscany's two southernmost areas) before flowing into the Ombrone river.    View VAL D'ORCIA MAP in a larger map